Joyce Arthur, Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada, www.arcc-cdac.ca
April 19, 2011
Abortion could easily be recriminalized under a Conservative majority government, despite Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s promises to the contrary. All that’s required is the passage of a private member’s bill (PMB) via a free vote.
During last year’s debate on Bill C-510, a private member’s bill banning “coerced abortion,” Harper said that he and his Cabinet members would vote against it, a promise that he kept. He also discouraged his MPs from voting in favour of it, but 87 of them did anyway, including 10 of his 35 Cabinet members (after he told them not to) as well as 10 Liberals. Luckily, the bill was still defeated thanks to the strength of combined Bloc, NDP, and Liberal votes, but that cushion would be gone with a majority Conservative government. Even if Harper and most of his Cabinet members continue to vote against any abortion-related PMB, the sizable contingent of anti-choice Liberal MPs who would vote with the increased number of Conservatives, could easily secure the bill's victory. Currently, at least 66% of Harper’s current caucus are anti-choice (along with 17% of the Liberal caucus), according to the list put together by the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada (ARCC).
There have been 35 anti-abortion private member
bills and motions introduced in
abortion really be defunded? Harper did say in the election
campaign of 2004 (the year he became leader of the Conservative Party),
would oppose any bill limiting provincial funding to abortion services,
would not support a referendum on abortion. But as soon as the
were first elected in 2006, they largely stopped
enforcing the Canada Health Act,
allowing provinces to flout the Act openly. For
example, the feds simply dropped the arbitration process that the
Liberal Health Minister had initiated with
In that same 2004 election campaign, Harper said that if elected he would allow free votes in Parliament on abortion-related PMBs, adding “I will not be making free votes and private member's legislation more difficult than it is already.” Given the tight control that Harper exercises over his MPs, however, it’s highly likely that any PMB they introduce has already been vetted and approved by Harper, including the last three PMBs on abortion (Bill C-510, Bill C-484, and Bill C-537). If that’s the case, Harper’s stated opposition to abortion-related bills cannot be trusted.
Harper is anti-choice himself, according to ARCC’s list of anti-choice MPs (on the basis of him voting in favour of Bill C-484 and against Dr. Henry Morgentaler’s Order of Canada). Further, Harper did not rebut Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe during the English language leader’s debate on April 12, when Duceppe challenged him on the fact that a majority government could pass private member bills to restrict abortion.
Earlier in April, when asked by reporters if he would introduce government measures against abortion or gay marriage if he wins a majority, Harper said no. He has also said that nothing would change with a majority: “Our agenda is the same agenda with a majority government or a minority government. … We will govern on the platform that we are elected on.” But there is absolutely no reason for Harper to even want a majority unless he’s going to take advantage of it to move forward on a right-wing agenda. No doubt he’s cautious on the abortion issue because he doesn’t want to deal with the huge firestorm of media and political opposition that would be ignited with a government-sponsored bill to restrict abortion – but it could happen anyway.
Harper will be under tremendous pressure from his caucus and right-wing base to pass abortion restrictions. Many of his anti-choice MPs are hardliners who do not respect Harper’s official stance against abortion legislation and will see a majority government as an opportunity to aggressively push the issue. In addition, anti-choice MPs are in the habit of proposing Trojan Horse laws that claim to protect pregnant women, but that instead would impose barriers to abortion access or change the definition of human being to include “unborn child”. If a government-sponsored bill was cloaked in this manner, Harper could pretend it’s not about restricting abortion and therefore doesn’t count as abortion legislation. It’s even possible that a deceptive piece of anti-abortion legislation could be snuck into the Omnibus crime bill, which Harper has promised to pass within 100 days of taking power.
Further, if Harper wants to avoid accountability for an abortion-related PMB from his MPs, all he has to do is wait for a Liberal MP to introduce one. Anti-choice Liberal and Conservative MPs (and a few Senators) work together to bring forward anti-abortion bills via the Parliamentary Pro-life Caucus (PPLC). Around 60-70 MPs are thought to be members of the caucus, probably including most of those on ARCC's list except for Cabinet members. This 2004 article by Lloyd Mackey names 50 probable members at that time, including Harper himself.
PPLC was founded in
1998 by several anti-choice MPs and Campaign Life
clear that a majority Conservative government could pose a
grave danger to abortion rights and access in